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How to Tell Your Spouse You Want a Divorce

How to Tell Your Spouse You Want a Divorce

unhappy couple

While you may have thought about filing for a divorce in Ohio for a long time, the news may come as a shock to your spouse. Divorce, no matter how amicable, is never a pleasant topic. Knowing how to tell your spouse you want a divorce can be complicated and nerve-wracking.

Think about your feelings. Do you want to get divorced? Or do you want your spouse to go to marriage counseling? Spend more time with you? Say "I love you" more? 

How you tell your spouse is difficult, but whatever you do, don't send mixed signals. A lot of people aren't clear about what they want when they tell a spouse they want a divorce. Be as straightforward as you can without being abrupt. Don't make your spouse play guessing games.

Troubled marriages usually don't occur in a vacuum. You may have even discussed divorce or separation in the past. Even if you haven't, the other spouse often knows that something is wrong, but isn't sure what to do about it. A few spouses may be oblivious to your unhappiness.


Plan ahead of time what you want to say. If you have a basic outline in place, you are more likely to have a civil discussion and not be distracted by any petty arguments that may come up.

If you are afraid that your spouse may harm or abduct you or your children, discuss your situation with a professional and make a detailed plan with their help. Pick a time when the two of you won't interrupt or distracted. Turn off cell phones or other distractions.

Take an educated guess about how your spouse will react to the news. The more surprised they are, the more resistant they usually are to getting a divorce.

If you have children, make sure they are someplace else. Even very young children are good at picking up tension between their parents, don't make it worse for them.

Use common sense. Don't discuss the subject if either of you has been drinking or using drugs.

Know that the conversation will be unpleasant and uncomfortable, no matter what the situation.

Keep the discussion short and to the point. There won't be just one discussion about your divorce, there will be several. Don't talk about issues that can't be resolved quickly or let your spouse bait you into getting into a long, drawn-out argument. Simply reiterate what you have said. Tell your spouse that you are willing to discuss other more complicated issues when you are both ready, but that right now is not the time.


  • Stay calm. This may be easier said than done, but try your best to maintain your sense of calm and avoid falling prey to a spouse's attempts at pressing your buttons.
  • Take responsibility. It takes two people to make a marriage. Both of you made mistakes. Acknowledge your role in the marriage's demise and avoid making accusatory statements.
  • Use clarity. Relate your reasons for divorce, as well as making it clear that your decision is well thought out and final.


  • Guilt. Some spouses react by laying guilt-inducing accusations on you, such as poor parenting or selfishness. Come prepared with calm responses to hurtful comments and avoid succumbing to guilt.
  • Promises to change. A spouse often will make dramatic promises to change in the face of a divorce, especially in the case of addiction. Display empathy but maintain your confidence and resolve.
  • Anger. A spouse's feelings of fear and uncertainty when his or her spouse asks for a divorce often turns into anger. Your spouse may become accusatory and defensive. Avoid reacting with unnecessary hurtful statements. Have your discussion in a safe public place if you think that your spouse may react violently and seek immediate help if you feel imminent physical danger.


It's easy to get caught up in your emotions when you are planning on divorcing your spouse. Don't let the situation get the better of you however, doing something dramatic almost guarantees that the divorce will become a major war.

Don't skip the divorce discussion and simply wait for your spouse to be served with divorce papers. You may think this is an easy "out" but no one likes to be blindsided, and a spouse being served papers out of the blue will make things much, much worse for the both of you in the long run.

Don't tell your neighbors, family, friends, and co-workers that you are getting a divorce before you tell your spouse. You can talk to a few trusted people or a disinterested third party like a counselor, but remember that the more people you tell, the more likely it will get back to your spouse.

If anything, it makes you look foolish and inconsiderate.

Don't make a dramatic exit and give your spouse an unpleasant surprise when they return from work, a night out or a vacation.  (The exception to this rule is an abusive situation, which needs to be thoroughly planned out and discussed with a professional.) You're an adult, so take the mature route.

Divorce is a serious subject that involves changing the lives of everyone in the family, it deserves to be treated as such.


It's normal to feel apprehensive about discussing divorce with your spouse. But if you feel that divorce is your only option, knowing when and how to tell your spouse lets the two of you adjust to the situation and eventually move on.

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